Plays are great literary works to utilize in your classroom. Students will enjoy the faster pace of reading them even acting out the scenes. Many high school classrooms solely read Shakespearean plays, but it can also be exciting and educational to read a variety of dramas and playwrights that come from all different backgrounds. Here are five different dramas to read in your classroom that aren’t from the Bard. This post contains affiliate links.
1. Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)
This play is considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. The characters are iconic, as are specific lines, i.e. “Stella!” and this makes the play a memorable study for your students. You can discuss with your class the specifics of the play that make it so significant to study, such as the setting of New Orleans, or the themes that revolve around the topics of mental illness, gender, sexuality, and control. Since there was a movie produced in 1951, your class can witness the play being performed. Show the film in class, or assign it for homework to help your students understand the play in greater depths.
2. Fences by August Wilson (1985)
Fences is a great play to use for your class to read to get a perspective into the life of an African-American family in the 1950s. You can even use this text as a supplement for a bigger piece your class studies like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston to show the differences in how race and gender are portrayed in each text, despite being different forms of literature. Themes to discuss with your class include that of race, masculinity, gender, and family. The play runs so deep in its expressions that students who doubt the literary value of plays will fully be on board with this text as something of importance.
3. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)
This play is inspired by a poem, “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes. This would be a great way to introduce the teaching of the play, as you can read the poem in class, and have the class determine the inspiration Hansberry found in it. The play focuses on a black family, the Youngers, and their struggles with racial discrimination after the father dies and the family decides to move to a white neighborhood. Themes for your class to pay attention to are the subjects of race and family, and how both affect each decision the family faces.
4. The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman (2000)
The Laramie Project is the most modern of the plays on this list. It is about a gay college student’s murder. It is told from many perspectives, all based on actual interviews, news reports, and journals. This play’s major goal is to teach tolerance and acceptance, in the hopes to end the hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ+ community. It is a unique play because of the way it is presented in short scenes, all based on actual events and dialogue. There is also a movie based on this play, so have your students watch the film and show the significant parts in class to have them get a better understanding of the story.
5. Machinal by Sophie Treadwell (1928)
This is the oldest play on the list but still focuses on issues that your students will be able to understand, even with their modern sensibilities. This is another play inspired by true events. It focuses on the life and death of murderer Ruth Synder, though the play does not use the real names of the people, and often only uses descriptions, like “A Young Woman” or “A Young Man” in order to allow readers, or actors, to place anyone in that position. The play focuses a lot on gender and the prisons we make for ourselves in our minds. Gender is a key issue in this play, as the main character never feels like she can be herself because of the restraints she has from her marriage.